Pakistanis Vote But General Musharraf Elects

By Dr. Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, August 26 (2005): On August 18 and 25, Gen. Musharraf “staged” the second municipal elections since his military coup on October 12, 1999. He garbed them as “grassroots democracy.” It is ironic that he willingly braves for electing “local governments,” but trembles at the very thought of electing the national one.

The reason is obvious. Municipal elections offer his power grab a ‘taint’ of legitimacy, while the national elections would strip him of even a ‘tainted legitimacy.’

He has seen, to his horror, this reversal on April 30, 2002, when he held a national referendum to elect himself “president.” Voters resoundingly rejected his referendum by abstaining, en masse, as such a farce had no place in the constitution that punishes his power grab with death. So, he dreads both: the constitution and the elections. Yet he cannot rid himself of either. He has rather gone on subverting the two by rewriting the constitution and stealing the elections.

Stealing was exactly what 20 per cent of the eligible voters, who turned out to vote on August 18, witnessed. They were dumbfounded to see ballot boxes already stuffed with ballot papers filled out by presiding officers and polling staff. This feat was pulled off by keeping the polling agents of opposition candidates out of polling precincts, which were seized by Musharraf-backed candidates with the active collusion of police and paramilitary forces.

In Karachi, which houses half of the nation’s urban population, polling stations for 100 union councils were converted into “no go areas” for the opposition’s polling agents. Officers of the Musharraf government took pride in carving out such “off-limits” territory to keep opposition parties invisible.

The Chief Minister of Sindh, which is the country’s second most populous province, long before the vote began, publicly pledged to turn Sindh into a “no go area” for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that dominates it. He lived up to his word.

First, he changed the electoral cartography by gerrymandering the PPP-dominated districts. Second, he had around 1,000 candidates elected unopposed. Third, he beat the unbeatable PPP candidates by framing them in such cases as “rape, murder, and robberies.” Those who were charged with such fabrications included, among others, a brother of the Chief of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), and a PPP’s sitting member of the National Assembly, who also is a former federal minister.

The Rangers, a paramilitary force headed by a serving army general, in Karachi provided the much-needed protective shield to polling officers and government-backed candidates while they were busy filling the empty void of ballot boxes.

Gen. Musharraf followed a three-step “How-to” on cheating the municipal elections, which contained three separate sub-manuals on each phase of the elections: Before, during, and after.

In the pre-polling phase, he first ensured that a “part-time” Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) stay in place. Mystified about “his” future, he would happily do what he was told, and so would the rest of his Commission. As expected, the Election Commission scheduled the elections in two parts: first batch held on August 18 in 53 districts and the second on August 25 in 56 districts.

With this distribution, if the first heist goes bust, the second can still make up for more than half of the loss. It is pertinent to ask if the same Election Commission can hold elections for the National and Provincial Assemblies on the same day, why cannot it hold the same for City Halls?

But an even bigger question arises as to why municipal elections become the concern of the Federal Election Commission, if they are meant to empower “grassroots communities?” Shouldn’t it be the concern of provincial governments and provincial election commissions? Does Delhi decide who is going to be the Mayor of Amritsar? Does Whitehall choose who is going to be the Lord Mayor of London? Does Washington distribute “City Fathers?” Yet a part-time Election Commissioner with all his craft of carving and heaving the elections in “portable” distributions was not that reassuring to Gen. Musharraf.

He supplemented the CEC and his rewarding skills with a barrage of amendments to the Local Government Ordinance (LGO) to allow the sitting ministers of his cabinet (yes, it is his cabinet) and sitting members of the parliament to contest the elections.

On top of it, he empowered chief ministers to fire the elected municipal officers, just in case! These amendments opened the floodgate of corrupting influence to steal the elections long before they were actually held. Then, he went around the country and campaigned for ML (an acronym that is spelt out as Muslim League but read as “Musharraf League”) candidates, while barring the opposition from fielding or canvassing for theirs. Ironically, his campaigning was contrary to the very LGO that he himself signed into law.

To reinforce his support for ML hopefuls and intimidate their opponents, he showed up in “military uniform” at prescreened and pre censored rallies. Yet unsure of victory, he had more than 4,000 candidates elected unopposed, while their opponents were kept from filing nomination papers.

To further hedge his bets, he set off his men in “plain clothes” to “work on” a select set of opposition members, especially from the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and have them defect their parties. Many, for fear of life, did defect whom he embraced as “a vote of confidence in my policies.”

While counting his blessings, he made it a point to mention the home constituency of the ARD Chief, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, where he collected several “portable” members, who were literally hammered from being “check-in luggage” to “overhead baggage.”

Even still unsure of the mysteries of voters’ intentions, he held in the General Headquarters (GHQ) a meeting of police chiefs of all provinces, whom he directed to do whatever it takes for an upset, should the opposition prevails.

The police outperformed his expectations all across the country, especially in Balochistan that was swept into the ML bag, claiming “204 Union Councils out of 274.” Here is a province that on August 14, just four days before the elections, has a latest round of a “province-wide bombing campaign” against the policies of Gen. Musharraf and those of his Musharraf League, and yet it succumbs to the seductive wave of the magic wand that sweeps it into the lap of Gen. Musharraf.

He finally found an “under-the-counter” prescription for inter-provincial harmony. Where he failed to accomplish his goals through rigging, before or during the polls, he went on to plug those holes with post-poll rigging. That is why his Election Commission is sitting on the election results that it won’t release until seven days after the elections, i.e., on August 23.

In short, Gen. Musharraf stole rural Sindh and Southern Punjab with pre-poll rigging; urban Sindh with during-the-poll rigging; and Central Punjab, Northern Punjab, and Balochistan with post-poll rigging.

The only province that fought back his robbery was the Pakhtoonkhwa that witnessed the fairest of all electoral exercise. As a result, the nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) and center-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), together, won elections in 160 union councils, while the ruling Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) trailed behind with the second place.

It is clear that Musharraf is in search of a “democracy” that could shoulder his dictatorship, but the people of Pakistan, whom he contemptuously treats as a herd of beasts yoked to his slavedom, once again shattered his dreams.

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